Proposition J backers are cash poor, depending on volunteers for success
“This is about your right to vote on CodeNEXT, the son of CodeNEXT, the grandson of CodeNEXT, or whatever reincarnation of CodeNEXT comes along,” said Fred Lewis, who wrote the CodeNEXT petition ordinance that will appear as Proposition J on the November 6 ballot.
Lewis also formed Community Not Commodity to drum up community opposition to any and all sweeping changes to Austin’s land development code unless those changes have voter approval. Community Not Commodity organized numerous house parties in different neighborhoods, spreading word about perceptions of what CodeNEXT might do to the community fabric.
Opticos Design Inc. has been paid $7,558,484 to date for its work on the comprehensive rewrite of the land development code known as CodeNEXT, according to Austin Finance Online. Yet mounting criticism of what it might do if implemented caused the City Council to kill the project. That action does not prevent it from being resurrected, in whole or in part, for future consideration.
Prop J pep rally
“If Proposition J passes, you the community will have the final say on whether to adopt it,” Lewis said to a packed room at Threadgill’s World Headquarters last Thursday evening.
Lewis introduced boxer Casey Ramos, who over an 11-year period won 24 of 25 professional fights as a super featherweight. Ramos, said he is from East Austin and he is “progressive in a city that claims to be but isn’t. We came together for this,” he said. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“This is a fistfight,” said Nelson Linder, president of the Austin NAACP, who spoke after Ramos. “This is one last chance to stop the machine in this city that cares about nothing but money and power.”
Although Lewis announced the organization would not be endorsing candidates, the supportive crowd included three: mayoral candidate and former council member Laura Morrison, District 3 candidate Susana Almanza of PODER, and District 8 candidate Bobby Levinski, an attorney with the Save Our Springs Alliance.
The occasion was to kickoff a campaign to win voter support for passage of Proposition J on November 6, just 65 days later.
Ballot language viewed as barrier
The ballot will read:
Proposition J: Shall a City ordinance be adopted to require both a waiting period and subsequent voter approval period, a total of up to three years, before future comprehensive revisions to the City’s land development code become effective?
That ballot language was approved by the City Council. But conspicuously absent from it is the “CodeNEXT” moniker made odious by the proliferation of yard signs all over town proclaiming “CodeNEXT Wrecks Austin.”
That omission so upset the petitioners that an emergency Writ of Mandamus was filed directly with the Texas Supreme Court, seeking a last-minute order to revise the ballot wording.
The City of Austin responded with a lengthy brief defending the wording and the court rejected the writ.
Thus, Prop J backers will have to work with that council-approved language and try to make sure voters connect the dots between the yard signs and the less descriptive ballot language.
Bucking the tide but not stopping
The Supreme Court decision was just one more setback to a campaign that has met the City’s resistance at every turn since launching a petition drive a year ago, as reported by The Austin Bulldog.
The first sign of the City’s resistance surfaced early this year when, as The Austin Bulldog reported February 19, public libraries started cracking down on people gathering signatures for the CodeNEXT petition ordinance.
After a second signature gatherer was issued a criminal trespass warning, attorney Bill Aleshire on March 8 fired off a letter to the city manager, library director, and city attorney, to warn that litigation against the city would likely challenge the rules severely restricting petitioning.
As reported March 10 by The Austin Bulldog, the City suddenly lifted the ban against petitioning on library property and tasked the Library Commission with drafting new rules governing such conduct. (As The Austin Bulldog’s investigation published June 25, proved, the petitioning “problems” were a city invention. Inspection of library records dating back to 2006 indicated that not a single problem with petitioners gathering signatures at public libraries could be documented.)
More than 31,000 people signed petition
But, instead of placing the petition ordinance on the November 6 ballot, the council, relying on legal advice provided by an outside attorney, voted not to do so.
That triggered a lawsuit and a one-day hearing, reported by The Austin Bulldog July 2, 2018, that resulted in a court order to instruct the City Council to put the CodeNEXT petition ordinance on the ballot.
While knuckling under to obey the court order, the City Council took one last swipe by striking “CodeNEXT” from the ballot language. Hence the ill-fated Supreme Court challenge.
Now a financially broke uprising must, unless mega-donors suddenly emerge, depend on luck and pluck to win the hearts and minds of voters in the next two months.
Little money, recruiting volunteers
The latest Campaign Finance Report for the IndyAustin political action committee (linked below), covering the period ending June 30, 2018, shows the group had already spent $47,557, had no cash on hand, and had outstanding loans of $10,600. Lewis himself has loaned $13,500 to the campaign.
“This will be a grassroots campaign,” Lewis said. We need your help. Talk to your neighbors. There will be no TV, no slick mailers.”
Attorney Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, called on those at the kickoff event to “Dedicate yourselves between now and November 6. This has to be a grassroots effort.”
“Go out there and work hard and we will win,” Lewis said. “‘CodeNEXT Wrecks Austin’ drove the council crazy—and it worked.”
“We have support from progressives and conservatives because everyone loves their neighborhood,” Lewis said. “Vote for what’s best for your family and your neighborhood.”
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City Attorney Anne Morgan’s August 8, 2018, memo to Mayor and Council, Ballot Language for Citizen-Initiated Ordinances on November 6, 2018 ballot (2 pages)
City of Austin’s Response in Opposition to Original Emergency Petition for Writ of Mandamus, August 23, 2018 (156 pages) concerning the CodeNEXT petition ordinance
Related Bulldog coverage:
Ballot Language Draws Second Lawsuit, August 17, 2018
Who funds this work? This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for investigative reporting in the public interest. You can help support this independent coverage by making a tax-deductible contribution.
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